Sex traffickers are on many websites. Why is police action so rare?

HADLEY MA Jan 17 2018 — Prosecutors painted a squalid picture of what went on inside the little house on busy Russell Street: The Asian women were kept there night and day, providing sexual services for a fee, sleeping where they worked, and rarely venturing outside except to take out the trash.

The customers themselves led law enforcement to the address in 2016, by writing detailed reviews of the services they received at Hadley Massage Therapy — services that went far beyond massage. On a controversial website called Rubmaps.com, they described their sexual experiences in detail, including how much they paid, what services they received, and their level of satisfaction with the women’s performance.

“These are reviews on victims of human trafficking,’’ said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office led the investigation into the alleged sex traffickers who ran centers in Hadley, East Longmeadow, and Framingham. “It’s terrible, their depiction of women. . . . It’s just truly appalling.”

The now-closed Hadley Massage Therapy is one of hundreds of erotic massage centers described on Rubmaps.com in Massachusetts alone — and there are some 7,000 nationwide.

But even though law enforcement officials can easily find other suspected sex-trafficking operations on Rubmaps.com and other so-called John boards, listings on these sites seldom lead to prosecution.

That’s because of the sheer number of businesses and the legal resources needed to take each one down. Shutting them down is not as simple as rounding up the men and women in the massage parlor. State and local officials say they don’t want simply to arrest women workers — who are increasingly considered victims — but to take down the business operators who often run multiple storefronts.

Healey said her office will continue to go after the massage businesses described on the review boards. But even when law enforcement moves against erotic massage parlors, conviction of alleged traffickers is no slam dunk. The women, many of them fearful of deportation and unable to speak English, often make reluctant and poor witnesses. After being questioned, they often leave the state. The New England Center’s efforts to reach alleged victims from recent busts proved unsuccessful.

Donna Gavin, head of the human trafficking unit for the Boston Police Department, said police scrutinize review boards during investigations when they get tips about problematic addresses. But they have to be selective because investigations can be labor intensive, she said.

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Train Nurses to Spot Human Trafficking Victims

Healthcare professionals are in a unique position to identify and rescue victims of human trafficking. Nearly 88 percent of them seek medical treatment during captivity, and of those, 68 percent of them are seen in the emergency department (ED). Unfortunately, many victims slip through the cracks and remain “hidden.” A study released today (June 26, 2017 at 12:01 a.m.) in the Emergency Nurses Association’s Journal of Emergency Nursing aims to help emergency nurses better identify victims of human trafficking. The study details an evidence-based project that shines a spotlight on the importance of formal education, screening and treatment protocols for emergency department personnel to guide identification and rescue victims of human trafficking.

“Interestingly, we found that not only were formal education and treatment methods effective strategies to improve recognition and save human trafficking victims, but they also increased the identification of other forms of abuse such as domestic violence and sexual assault,” said study author Amber Egyud, DNP, RN, chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Forbes Hospital, Allegheny Health Network.

A multidisciplinary team implemented the project at a level two trauma center in a southwestern Pennsylvania community hospital ED where no human trafficking victims had ever been identified before. The team taught ED staff a two-pronged identification approach: medical red flags created by a risk assessment tool embedded into the electronic health record and a silent notification process. They also advised on the proper protocol to ensure the successful rescue and safety of the victims.

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Investigator’s Persistence Leads to Break in Abduction Case

“To crack Minnesota’s biggest cold case — the 1989 abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling — authorities went back to the early days of the investigation.

They turned a renewed spotlight last year on a man who was questioned soon after Jacob’s disappearance but was never charged. That ultimately led to Saturday’s announcement that Jacob’s remains finally had been found.

“On these kinds of cases it’s really a tribute to law enforcement that they simply never give up. … This is what persistence will reveal,” Michael Campion, former superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and former commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, said Sunday.

The case has not lain dormant for those 27 years, said Tom Heffelfinger, former U.S. attorney for Minnesota. To the contrary, he said, it’s been a top priority for local and federal law enforcement the entire time.”

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Off-duty security officer springs into action

“An off-duty security officer driving down a road sprang into action after being flagged down by a woman reporting a kidnapping in progress.
After getting off the light rail, the night turned to chaos after she says a man tried to grab her 7-year-old daughter.
Boone and her husband were able to keep the man away from their daughter, but they needed help and that’s when she flagged down a passing security guard.
“A woman who saw my patrol vehicle was jumping up and down and waving at me. I drove up and asked her if she needed help and she said ‘Yes, someone tried to steal my kid,’” said Security officer Casey Smith.
Smith says he was off-duty but that he wanted to help the Boones.
He confronted the man and tried to him down and keep him in the area until police could arrived but things turned violent, and the man tried to fight him. So Smith, who says he weighs at least 300 pounds, got him on the ground and held him until help got there.
“I just rolled the person over and then sat on them. Literally just jumped on his back and sat there holding his hands behind him until the police arrived,” said Smith.
Officers told him the guy may have gotten away if he hadn’t intervened.
“I would want someone to do the same thing for me. This day and age everything is so volatile. People are getting taken from different states and everything else and it’s just really hard not to help people,” said Smith.
The suspect now faces a charge of misdemeanor assault for pushing the husband. But detectives told Boone he’s not facing attempted kidnapping charges because he didn’t touch their daughter.
The man is not in jail. Phoenix police were not able to provide an update on the case Saturday night.

A local Phoenix news station has reported that the man has been arrested 54 times, mostly for public intoxication, drinking in public and assault.”

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Public Tip Leads to Safe Recovery of 3-Year-Old Florida Kidnap Victim

On August 3, 2015, Putnam County (Florida) Sheriff’s deputies and agents from the FBI’s Daytona Beach Resident Agency, Jacksonville Field Office, rescued 3-year-old Lilly Abigail Baumann and took her mother, Megan Elizabeth Everett, into custody. Everett, wanted on a local arrest warrant issued for allegedly kidnapping her daughter from Sunrise, Florida in May 2014, was also wanted on a federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.

In May 2014, officers from the Sunrise Police Department responded to a report of a parental kidnapping. Everett failed to return her daughter to the girl’s father as directed in their custody agreement. After a thorough investigation and efforts to locate the child, Sunrise Police Department officials believed she had left their jurisdiction with her daughter and requested assistance from the FBI Miami Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force.

The FBI—with its partners at the Sunrise Police Department—continued to work the case to track down Everett and her daughter, following up on tips and sending out leads. On August 2, 2015, Everett’s case was featured on the CNN program The Hunt with John Walsh. During the program, Bureau representatives helped staff a call center accepting incoming tips from the public. During one such phone call, real-time FBI analysis was able to determine the validity of the information offered by the tipster, and the following morning, investigators were able to locate Everett and her daughter at a residence in Palatka, Florida. Everett was taken into custody without incident, and Lilly was placed into protective custody. The 3-year-old was reunited with her father a short time later.

Miami press release

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Cold Case Investigation

Solving a Decades-Old Mystery

Tonya Hughes was just shy of her 21st birthday on a spring day in 1990 when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Oklahoma City. She died five days later, but the investigation into her suspicious death led to a mystery—and a murder—that took decades to fully unravel.

That’s because Tonya Hughes was not who anyone thought she was—and neither was her husband, Clarence Hughes, who now sits on death row in a Florida prison.

“The FBI has been chipping away at this one,” said Special Agent Scott Lobb, who began working the cold case investigation in 2013 out of the Bureau’s Oklahoma City Division. “There were a lot of peculiar twists to this case.”

Tonya left behind a child, Michael Hughes. Her husband claimed he was Michael’s biological father, but shortly after Tonya died, Clarence gave Michael to Oklahoma state welfare officials and promptly disappeared. “He knew the truth would come out,” Lobb said, “and so he fled.”

The truth—discovered during the hit-and-run investigation—was that Clarence Hughes was actually Franklin Delano Floyd, a federal fugitive from Georgia wanted since 1973.

Floyd was arrested in Georgia two months later and sent back to prison to serve the rest of his sentence. A blood test revealed that he was not Michael’s biological father. That fact apparently didn’t matter to Floyd, because when he got out of prison in 1993, he was determined to get custody of Michael. And he did—by kidnapping the 6-year-old from elementary school on September 12, 1994.

When authorities caught up with him in Kentucky two months later, Michael was nowhere to be found, and Floyd would not say what happened to the boy. Floyd was later found guilty of a federal kidnapping charge and sent to prison.

During the kidnapping investigation, photos were found taped to the gas tank of Floyd’s pickup truck that showed a young woman who appeared to be bound and beaten. Years later, the woman—Cheryl Ann Comesso—was identified and matched to remains that had previously been discovered near a freeway on-ramp near Tampa, Florida. Floyd was charged with her 1989 murder, convicted, and sentenced to death in 2002.

The investigation into Michael’s kidnapping also determined that Tonya Hughes, too, had been kidnapped by Floyd—sometime between 1973 and August 1975—and when he surfaced in Oklahoma City, he began introducing his future wife as his daughter.

In 2013, the FBI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children conducted a cold case review of the Hughes kidnapping and reopened the investigation. A year later, Lobb and Special Agent Nate Furr spent several days interviewing Floyd in prison regarding Tonya and Michael Hughes.

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International Parental Kidnapping Case

Partnerships, Publicity Key to 9-Year-Old’s Rescue

When 9-year-old Billy Hanson didn’t return to Pennsylvania after spending the summer with his father in Seattle, the boy’s mother called her local police department, setting in motion an international kidnapping investigation that led FBI agents halfway around the world to a tiny island in the South Pacific.

What would eventually bring the case to a successful conclusion was the extraordinary collaboration between local, federal, and international law enforcement and other agencies. But on that September day in 2014 when Billy was not on the flight he was supposed to be on, his mother “was obviously very concerned,” said Special Agent Carolyn Woodbury, who led the investigation from the FBI’s Seattle Division.

Johanna Hanson had agreed to let her son spend that July and August living with his father, Jeff Hanson, aboard a 30-foot sailboat named the Draco. But after Billy arrived in Washington, she began receiving text messages from her estranged husband suggesting that Billy would not be returning in the fall—a clear violation of their court-approved custody agreement.

Johanna called the Hazelton Pennsylvania Police Department, who, in turn, contacted the Port of Seattle Police Department. In August, a welfare check was conducted, which showed that Billy and his father were on the boat in Seattle, and all seemed to be well. A week later, however, the airplane ticket Billy’s grandfather had purchased for his return to the East Coast was never used—and the Draco was nowhere to be found.

The FBI-led Seattle Safe Streets Task Force, which includes the Seattle Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, was called for assistance. Task force members who went to the marina and elsewhere to conduct interviews learned that 46-year-old Jeff Hanson had given away some of his personal belongings, that he had previously sailed the Draco around the world, and—most significantly—that he had a six-day head start on investigators. In other words, he was likely on the open sea and could be headed anywhere. Investigators also learned another troubling fact, Woodbury said: “We were told that Billy didn’t know how to swim.”

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Introducing AMBER Alerts on Facebook

Today, we are announcing a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to send AMBER Alerts to the Facebook community to help find missing children.

The new initiative will deliver AMBER Alerts to people’s News Feeds in targeted search areas after a child has been abducted and the National Center has issued an alert.

These alerts, which include photographs and other details about the missing child, are shown on mobile and desktop. People can share the alert with friends and link directly to the National Center’s missing child poster, which always has the most up-to-date information about the case.

For years, people have used Facebook to post news articles about missing children and AMBER Alerts. In several cases, someone saw a post or photo in their News Feed, took action, and a child was safely returned.

In 2014, an 11-year-old girl was safely recovered after a motel owner recognized her from an AMBER Alert that a friend had shared on Facebook. The woman called the police, and the child was found unharmed. It’s amazing word-of-mouth efforts like this that inspired us to develop a more systematic way to help find missing children on Facebook.

We know the chances of finding a missing child increase when more people are on the lookout, especially in the critical first hours. Our goal is to help get these alerts out quickly to the people who are in the best position to help.

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FBI: NC Inmate Helped Orchestrate Kidnapping

A North Carolina prison inmate used a smuggled mobile phone to keep in touch with kidnappers holding the father of a prosecutor who helped send him away for life, federal authorities said.

Five people were arrested and Frank Arthur Janssen, a Wake Forest man whose daughter prosecutes violent crimes, was rescued late Wednesday following a raid by the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team on an Atlanta apartment.

During the abduction, the kidnappers took a picture of Janssen tied up in a chair and sent it to his wife, threatening to torture and dismember him if she went to police, the FBI said in court documents.

Janssen’s kidnapping was related to his daughter’s prosecution of Kelvin Melton, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the shooting of a man in 2011, said John Strong, the FBI’s agent in charge for North Carolina.

Authorities say Melton, 49, had a mobile phone in his cell at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, exchanging at least 123 calls and text messages with the alleged kidnappers in the past week. Authorities closed in on the suspects by tracking their mobile phones and listening to their calls.

According to testimony from his 2012 trial, Melton is a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang from New York City who ordered a 21-year-old subordinate to travel to Raleigh and kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Court records show Melton has a long record of felony convictions in New York, the first being a 1979 robbery committed when he was 14.

The admitted triggerman, Jamil Herring Gressett, testified that he followed Melton’s orders for fear he or his loved ones would be killed if he didn’t. The victim survived a gunshot wound.

The prosecutor in the case was Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen.

In a handwritten 2012 letter in the court file, Melton protested that the prosecutor had not followed proper legal procedure, citing a specific state statute.

“Prosecutor must file accuser affidavit with clerk of court ‘prior’ to seeking an indictment, this affidavit must be on file, mandatory!” Melton wrote. “The accused indictment is not legal and is rendered in-valid.”

Melton’s amateur lawyering didn’t work. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and being a habitual felon, resulting in a life sentence.

According to the FBI, a woman knocked on Frank Janssen’s door Saturday at his Wake Forest home in a quiet, upscale, golf course subdivision. Several people assaulted him and someone used a stun gun. He was then driven to Atlanta.

On Monday, his wife, Christie, started receiving a series of text messages from a mobile phone in Georgia. One of the texts said if law enforcement was contacted, “we will send (Mr. Janssen) back to you in 6 boxes and every chance we get we will take someone in your family to Italy and torture them and kill them … we will do drive by and gun down anybody.”

The messages made specific demands for the benefit of Melton, according to the FBI. Those demands were not spelled out in the court filings and authorities did not answer questions at a news conference Thursday.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press that the kidnapping was an act of retaliation and that the communications of those involved suggested a link to the Bloods. The official had been briefed on the investigation.

At 12:19 a.m. Wednesday, Janssen’s wife received a text photograph of him tied up in a chair along with a message: “Tomorrow we call you again an if you can not tell me where my things are at tomorrow i will start torchering.”

At 8:20 p.m., the FBI says a call was placed by Melton from the prison to a phone associated with the kidnappers in Atlanta. The two male callers appear to be discussing how to dispose of a body:

“The first spot we are checking out is close to the house.”

“We want to make sure it’s in a secluded area and the ground is soft so we can go 3 feet deep.”

“Get a bag, put it over his head, and stuff something in his mouth.”

“However you feel like doing it, just do it.”

“Make sure to clean the area up. Don’t leave anything. Don’t leave any DNA behind.”

Following the call, authorities tried to enter Melton’s cell and he temporarily barred the door and smashed the phone. A few hours later, they located Janssen in Atlanta at the Forest Cove Apartments.

Charged with kidnapping were: Jenna Paulin Martin; Tiana Maynard; Jevante “Flame” Price; Michael “Hot” Montreal Gooden and Clifton James Roberts. Authorities also recovered a .45-caliber handgun, picks and a shovel, according to the FBI.

Those arrested appeared Thursday before a federal magistrate judge in Atlanta. They are due back in court for a bond hearing Tuesday, when they will each have a lawyer appointed by the judge.

According to prison records, Melton is being held on “maximum control” status after racking up several infractions over the past year, including being cited for possessing a weapon and twice for having a mobile phone.

In 2013, 747 mobile phones were confiscated from inmates in North Carolina’s prisons. So far this year, 166 have been seized.

Officials at the state Department of Public Safety concede many are smuggled in by prison employees bribed by inmates or their relatives. They are now investigating how Melton got the phone he allegedly used to help orchestrate the kidnapping of his prosecutor’s father.

“The department is deeply concerned about any corrupting influence by inmates against Adult Correction employees and will aggressively investigate and take action against offenders and staff involved in using cellphones to conduct criminal activity from inside prison walls,” Secretary Frank L. Perry said. “It will continue its ongoing efforts with increased intensity toward stopping contraband from entering any of its facilities.”

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Two West Siders accused of sex trafficking underage girls

A man and a woman from Chicago’s West Side are accused of the sex trafficking of two underage runaway girls in 2012, federal authorities said today.

Arnell Chase Misher, 30, and Braundii Young, also known as “Boochie”, 22, both of the 100 block of North Lockwood Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, were charged in a criminal complaint Friday with conspiring to force a 17-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl, both runaways, to engage in commercial sex acts during the summer of 2012, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Misher appeared in court today and Young was in court Monday before judges at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. They both remain in custody and Young is scheduled to appear in court again Wednesday while Misher is slated for March 10, according to the office.

According to the complaint, the 17-year-old was approached by Misher in June 2012, at the corner of Lockwood Avenue and Fulton Street after she ran away from home. Misher told her she could make money by working for him performing sex acts with strangers.

Misher and Young bought clothing for the teen, who they nicknamed “Babyface,” styled her hair and told her the “rules of working for him.” Those rules included only engaging in sex acts with “whites and Mexicans,” and asking for $100 for sex with “dates”, though if the customer would not pay she could go lower, the complaint said.

The two posted online provocative pictures of the girl and her phone number to advertise her for sex services, according to the complaint.

The girl overheard Misher place a telephone call to Young and stated something to the effect of: “I have another girl,” the complaint said.

Misher and Young told the 17-year-old to lie about her age if she was ever arrested, according to the complaint. She worked for them for a period of two weeks, engaging in multiple commercial sex acts and turning over all the money she made to them.

The 13-year-old was also allegedly approached by Misher multiple times near Lockwood Avenue north of Washington Boulevard on the West Side after she ran away in July 2012, and he asked her to work for him performing sex acts and told her to lie about her age, the complaint said.

After the girl repeatedly turned him turn down, he allegedly “grabbed” her, threw her into his car, and gave her pills before dropping her off on near Kilpatrick Avenue and Washington Street on the West Side to start working for him, the complaint said. After “not attracting any customers,” Misher told the girl she was “scaring off” customers, the complaint said.

They told her not to accept any less than $90 for doing any sex act.

The complaint alleges her services also were advertised online and that the girl worked for them for four to six days. A little later in July, Misher confronted the 13-year-old, threatened to beat her and held her in their basement on Lockwood, telling her she “needed to contribute,” according to the complaint.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force. If convicted, Misher and Young face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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